by Caroleen Brej

Detoxing. Healing. Revitalizing. The holy grail of the fountain of youth. Apple cider vinegar, or ACV, is regarded as a simple and ancient miracle elixir. For centuries, civilizations in Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and the Roman Empire used it for its medicinal and healing benefits. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, even prescribed this nutrient-dense powerhouse mixed with honey to cure all sorts of ailments. Surely, he was on to something. Today, apple cider vinegar is linked to curing everything from the common cold to the hiccups, as well as promoting youthful skin, removing toxins, assisting digestion, and aiding in weight loss.

What is this miracle drink, exactly? ACV is a vinegar made from fermented apples. The fermentation process converts the apple’s natural sugars into alcohol, and is also responsible for creating its infamous pungent smell and sour taste. It has a slightly higher mineral and vitamin content compared to other vinegars, and contains pectin which naturally occurs in apples.

How can you incorporate ACV into your diet? ACV is pungent and sour. To make it more palatable, it can be added to marinades, brines, sauces, soups, salad dressings, and smoothies, or consumed as a tonic by diluting one teaspoon (gradually working up to 1-2 tablespoons) in a glass full of water and even some honey as Hippocrates directed. Beware, however, to not drink it straight as it can damage your tooth enamel and throat. There is both filtered or unfiltered ACV; unfiltered is often unpasteurized and contains leftover bacteria—“the mother”— which some claim has potent medicinal properties.

Does ACV lead to weight loss? One manufacturer of ACV touts its weight loss benefits and plenty of hype surrounds its weight loss properties. Studies have shown that acid buildup in the body may result in weight gain, and ACV helps to alkalize the body thereby aiding in weight loss. Some ACV consumers also feel that their appetite is suppressed after ingestion before meals and that it reduces water retention. Together with the natural energy boost from the vinegar, some truly believe in and can attest to weight loss benefits.

While ACV has been shown to assist in weight loss, researchers say it does not actually burn fat on its own. Studies of obese rats show that acetic acid, the main component of ACV, can suppress body fat accumulation and metabolic disorders. For humans, however, the research is not so definitive. Published by the medical journal Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry in 2009, one notable study of 175 obese Japanese subjects found that, at the end of a 12-week period, participants who consumed vinegar had a lower body weight, BMI, and body fat mass compared to the participants who consumed no vinegar. The study investigators concluded that “daily intake of vinegar might be useful in the prevention of metabolic syndrome by reducing obesity.” The results of the study have been met with skepticism, however, as the actual amount of weight lost was minimal—only 2 to 4 pounds in over three months. Researchers believe that much larger, randomized scientific trials are necessary to prove a link between vinegar and weight loss.

While ACV may not directly be proven as the cause for weight loss, it has been shown to stabilize blood sugar levels in humans, reducing and even preventing cravings for sugar or unhealthy foods. A study that examined the antiglycemic properties of vinegar in healthy adults [Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism 2010] found that drinking vinegar before eating meals composed of complex carbohydrates decreased the change in glucose that would otherwise occur after the meal. It is believed that the acetic acid in the vinegar blocks the absorption of starch, which may help control blood sugar spike, thereby assisting in appetite control, and in turn, weight loss by reducing caloric intake. A 2005 Swedish study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition also demonstrated that taking ACV before a meal reduced cravings to snack hours afterwards.

What is the verdict on ACV and weight loss? Although ACV does not cause weight loss, it does aid in weight loss. Of course, simply incorporating ACV into your diet will not outweigh adverse health effects of a poor diet or will it simply negate caloric intake. To truly reap the weight loss benefits of this miracle elixir, one should also maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.